What's the backstory behind "The Things We Cherished" ?
The inspiration for The Things We Cherished came from a unique timepiece, known as an anniversary clock, which my husband gave me for our first wedding anniversary. I was captivated by the question of where the hundred year-old clock had been and the lives it had touched. As I imagined its history a tale unfolded of a couple at the turn of the century in Bavaria yearning for a better life, two brothers in Weimar Berlin wrestling issues of with Zionism and assimilation, the desperate quest of a young girl trapped behind the Iron Curtain, and of course Roger’s own story of love and sacrifice during the war.
What attracts you to historical fiction?
I lived and worked as a diplomat in Krakow, Poland, focusing on issues related to the Holocaust and Polish-Jewish relations and I met many survivors who became like grandparents to me. I wanted to write about those experiences which affected me so profoundly and which inspired my first novel The Kommandant’s Girl. This is such a compelling time period for me, not only because of the experiences working on these issues as a diplomat in Poland which affected me so profoundly, but also because the events of the era provide such fertile ground for exploring complex themes such guilt, redemption and sacrifice, the gray areas in our lives and the consequences of the choices we make. I consider my books to be, first and foremost, elegies, love poems and tributes to those who lived through those tumultuous times. The Things We Cherished also returns me to this important era, but also allows me to explore more globally the European Jewish experience in the 20th century.
You've had a varied work background. You've been employed with the State Department, the Secretary of the Army and now you're an attorney. What made you decide to write?
I always wanted to be a novelist. As a child, I was forever scribbling stories and showing them to anyone willing to look. But all through my years in school and abroad, I could never quite get off the ground. I became an attorney and one week later 9/11 happened and for me it was this huge life epiphany that I didn’t necessarily have forever so if I wanted to realize my dream of being a novelist, I needed to get started right away. I took a night course called “Write Your Novel This Year” and I did just that, writing from 5-7am in the morning then going off to my day job as an associate in a big law firm.
Who are some of your literary influences? What are you reading right now?
With three kids ages two and younger, I’m pretty much just reading picture books! But I did just read The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, which I loved. I read a lot of historical fiction growing up: Leon Uris, Herman Wouk, Isaac Bashevis Singer. And for lessons on the writing craft, Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg, was huge.
What is the hardest part of writing a novel? The easiest?
It’s all hard! Seriously. But I think the toughest part is taking the leap of faith that allows me to spend all of this time writing something in hopes that people will want to read it down the line. Also the discipline to sit down, come hell or high water or sick kids or work demands or sleepless nights, and write. The greatest parts (I wouldn’t call it them the easiest) are getting to connect with readers and work with the best folks in the business.
The Things We Carried is available July 12.
Pam is the author of The Kommandant's Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Diplomat's Wife, Almost Home, A Hidden Affair and The Things We Cherished. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children. Visit her at http://www.pamjenoff.com/